Motivation Strategies and Employee Performance

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 9
Words: 2292
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: College


Developments in the business operating environment have necessitated the evolution of employee motivation strategies, so that theory and practice are congruent. This paper reviews motivation strategies and how they have developed over time. The paper then looks at contemporary motivation strategies and how they can be used to improve employee performance. The study analysis literature on the various theories and practices that have been instituted over the years and then analyses these theories to study how modern organisations, motivate their employees.


In the modern economy, employee efficiency plays a very important role in determining the success of organisations. The efficiency of employees is dependent on many factors, the chief among them being employee motivation. The issue of motivation in organisations occupies a vital position in the management field. Managers consider motivation as a fundamental share of the performance equation, while management scholars view it as an essential foundation in the creation of valuable theories of effective management.

According to Ramlall (2004), Motivation describes the psychological processes that are responsible for the awakening, focussing and tenacity of goal-oriented voluntary actions. Robbins and Judge (2014) shares this view and argues that motivation describes the processes responsible for the persistence, intensity and direction of effort an individual puts into attaining a particular goal.

According to Milne (2007), motivation describes the readiness to utilise extraordinary effort to attain individual or group goals, conditioned by the ability of the effort to meet a particular individual need. All the definitions of motivation are basically cognisant of factors that invigorate, focus, and support human behaviour.

The modern world was created as a result of many changes and innovations over the years. As a result of this, human needs have changed, and as such, their drive to acquire these needs. This paper holds that while modern motivation theories are founded on early approaches to human motivation, they have evolved to fit with the changing wants and needs of individuals.

Literature Review

Early Motivation Theories

Porter, Bigley and Steers (2004) study the progression of work motivation theories throughout the ages. According to their work, early endeavours into understanding work motivation began with Greek philosophers, who focussed on hedonism as the main driver on human behaviour. According to this view, all human endeavours are geared towards escaping pain and attaining pleasure.

This theory was, however challenged in the final years of the nineteenth century when the topic of motivation stopped being regarded under philosophical terms but was studied under the field of psychology. Hedonism was disregarded as a driving force behind a human effort by scholars of this time who favoured the instinct theories proffered by McDougall, Freud and James. These scholars argued that human behaviour was not rational, but was driven by instincts such as sympathy, jealousy, fear, curiosity and locomotion (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004).

During the early 1900s, models centred on individual ambition began to emerge and slowly phased out the instinct theories. These models were established by scholars such as Hull, Woodworth and Thorndike, who held that work behaviour towards a future goal, were highly dependent on the rewards related to past behaviours.

These theories were further developed, and in the 1950s, several new theories on motivation emerged. These theories dubbed the content theories focussed on identifying the different factors connected to human behaviour and motivation. The content theories included Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, theories X and Y, and the two-factor theory (motivation-hygiene theory).

Maslow argued that as individuals advanced, their efforts progressed on a hierarchy grounded on the fulfilment of a sequence of prioritised needs (Reis & Pena, 2001). According to theory X, individuals have an innate aversion towards work and as such need to be compelled. Theory Y, on the other hand, holds that employees are comfortable in their tasks and view their work as natural as breathing. Herzberg argued that motivation is highly swayed by the degree with which a given task is challenging and offers chances for appreciation and reinforcement (Porter et al., 2004).

Contemporary Motivation Theories

Towards the end of the 1960s, scholars developed new approaches in the study of work motivation. These approaches concentrated on explaining the processes that makeup work motivation. The process theories developed were very different from early content theories, and focused on causal interactions across events and time with respect to human behaviour in organisations. The process theories developed sought to map the process of individual thought connected with a particular behavioural act (Lam & Lambermont-Ford, 2010).

The expectancy-valence theory is perhaps the most popular cognitive theory related to work motivation developed during this period. This theory was first presented by Vroom in 1964, who argued that employees usually evaluate certain discernible work behaviours and then select those behaviours that they perceive offer the best outcome and the most rewards.

Vroom believed that the appeal of a given task and the effort devoted to it would largely depend on the degree to which an individual perceives its execution will yield the treasured results (Ramlall, 2004).

Apart from the expectancy theory, the 1960s also saw the development of the goal-setting theory. According to Steers, Mowday and Shapiro (2004), this theory was developed when scholars realised that the enactment of targets for behaviour improved the performance of tasks.

Stringer, Didham and Theivananthampillai (2011) argued that the commitment, difficulty and specificity of goals had a very big impact on improving task performance. According to Robbins and Judge (2014), employee performance was improved by having specific goals, reception of difficult goals, and feedback in the organisation.

Robbins and Judge (2014) argue that people have different ways of controlling their behaviours and thoughts. Some individuals have a promotion focus and thus endeavour to find conditions that advance them towards the desired goal. Other individuals have a prevention focus and thus endeavour to accomplish obligations and duties and elude situations that seek to obstruct their path to the desired goal.

Over the years, development in management scholarship resulted in the development of the self-efficacy theory. This theory, developed by Bandura in 1977, argues that the self-confidence of an individual determines the degree with which they will seek to attain a particular goal actively.

This theory was further developed by Stajkovic and Luthans (2003) who discovered that self-efficacy played a very important role in determining the performance of work-related tasks, mainly in relation to locus of control and task complexity. Luthans (2001) argues that this model can be extended to any organisation through positive organisational behaviour.

During this period, various theories on the subject have also been introduced, such as the equity theory and the reinforcement theory. According to Milne (2007), the equity theory holds that employee performance is dependent on the degree with which they feel that a perceived inequality exists within the workplace. Skinner, however, believed that over time, individuals acquired knowledge on the relationships between actions and consequences, and that future behaviour are guided by these consequences (Wong, Gardiner, Lang, & Coulon, 2008).


The modern workplace is characterised by a progressively more immediate focus, time as a serious performance variable, more interaction between workers and evolving emotional reactions to the organisational experiences (Hong, Catano & Liao, 2011). Apart from this, employees are also more aware of the transitory nature of professions. These changes in the work-place environment have changed the manner in which each organisation motivates and rewards its employees.

These factors have necessitated the expansion of existing theories to suit the variable contemporary business environment. The main theories that are currently in use and study are mainly those developed in the 1960s and the 1970s. Modern scholars have extended and refined these theories such that they can best reflect a bigger pool of findings and better research methodologies (Reis & Pena, 2001).

Modern organisations base their motivation and reward strategies based on modern studies concentrating on innovation and creativity, punishment, cross-cultural influences, reward systems, procedural justice, and the goal-setting theory.

Content theories developed by Maslow and Herzberg have little use on the modern organisation environment. Herzberg theory is highly dependent on self-reports and is thus limited in meeting modern management needs. The reliability of the methodology offered by this theory is also questionable. Apart from this, Herzberg’s theory does not provide a means to measure satisfaction, thus limiting the use of this theory (Robbins & Judge, 2014). On the other hand, Maslow’s theory has at times played a role in modern management practices.

The process theories developed in the 1960s and 1970s has proved more applicable to modern organisations than the early theories. Of particular interest in modern organisation has been the goal-setting theory.

These theories describe those factors connected with particular goals, and have the ability to improve performance. In modern organisations, factors considered include goal specificity, complexity of goals, feedback on performance, commitment to goals, characteristics of goals and national culture. Goal-setting is best exemplified by the contemporary management technique referred to as Management by Objectives (MBO) (Porter et al., 2004).

This management system requires identification of all goals in every level that a manager is responsible for, and the communication of these goals with every employee under their wing. The management is responsible for the evaluation and management of performance with respect to these goals.

Modern organisation also relies on the self-efficacy theories on order to identify means to motivate their employees. Under this theory, organisations have to develop systems in which employees can motivate themselves in order to achieve a desired outcome.

Organisations thus have to institute step to improve employee self-confidence and the desire to achieve desired outcomes that are congruent to the goals of the organisation. Robbins and Judge (2014) argue that managers should develop an environment in which employees can improve their confidence on task performance, verbal persuasion, indirect modelling, and enactive mastery.

Self-efficacy can be improved by instituting training programs that allows employees to practice and enhance their skills. Managers can also institute programs to improve the personality and intelligence of the employees.

The job characteristic model is a contemporary model that incorporates motivation theories into the work environment. Studies have shown that existence of a list of job characteristics has a big impact on improving the level and satisfaction of work performance.

Modern organisations can redesign tasks in order to motivate employees. Another method of motivation is through job sharing where tasks are split between two or more employees. Due to recent developments in information technology and the internet, organisation can also motivate and reward their employees through the use of telecommuting (Robbins & Judge, 2014). Employees can work at home through a network connected to the organisation. This not only improves productivity, it also increases the labour pool as well as improve morale.

Management strategies can also be utilised to motivate employees. Modern motivation strategies include employee involvement to motivate workers. Drawing from the reinforcement theories, employees are given power to participate in decision making processes, and thus be a part of organisation’s success. Organisations can utilise participative management to motivate employees.

This model of management is usually used in cases where production and morale are low. It draws from Adam’s equity theory and seeks to instil more confidence and trust in leaders. The employees are given opportunities to offer their views on organisational decisions and their outcomes. The final and most common motivation strategy is representative management. In this model, employees are given leave to select a small group of representatives who will be empowered to participate in organisational-level decision making.

Apart from this, managers utilize reward systems connected to pay to motivate their employees. Many organizations have stopped basing their wage rates on experience and credential and have adopted variable-pay programs. One of this programs geared to motivate employees is the piece-rate pay. In this system, workers do not have a base wage but are paid depending on their production rate.

Another variable-pay system common in modern organisations is the merit-based pay. In this system, wages are paid according to their appraisal ratings. This system ensures that employees are aware that their rewards are linked to individual performances. It eliminates any perception of inequality within the organisation.

Bonuses are also one of the most common rewards systems in modern organisations. Many organisations incorporate annual bonuses as a part of their payment packages. These bonuses are availed to all employees and are increased when the performances of organisation improves.

Another reward system common in modern organization is skill-based pay. This system centres its wage system on the number of skill a worker possesses and how many tasks they can carry out. This system motivates employee to communicate better with each other in order to attain multiple skills.

Apart from this, organizations can utilize gain-sharing and profit-sharing plans. In profit-sharing, employees are paid based on the organizations profitability. They are a part of the company and are paid just like other shareholders. In gain-sharing, improvements in the company’s performance determine the money allocated to each employee. This system links rewards to gains in productivity rather than profits.


Motivation is a very important factor in any organisation. Since the industrial revolution, organisations have sought to find better ways to motivate their employees. Technological advancements, better education, as well as globalisation have led to the need of better motivation and reward systems.

Contemporary strategies have all been derived from early models of motivations. By understanding the cognitive and behavioural factors behind human behaviour, employers can be able to develop better motivation strategies for their organisations.

Modern motivation strategies involve development of better management models such as participative management and representative participation. Apart from this, employers can utilise reward systems linked to their pay structure such as merit-based pay, profit sharing, bonuses and gain sharing. With this system in place, modern organisations have been able to optimise employee performance.


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